Miss Pyongyang


The greatest playwright on the Korean peninsula has a new challenger. Yoduk Story, a musical featuring a cast of 40 and a girl-prison-guard chorus dressed in military skirts and boots that will delight uniform fetishists throughout the Pacific Rim, tells the story of the doomed romance between a North Korean prison camp commander and an imprisoned dancer. The show is the toast of Seoul, despite having been strongly discouraged by ROK government officials intent on accommodating the hermetic dictatorship of Kim Jong-Il:

[Director Jung Sung San] flashes a fiery smile as he talks about trying to get the show staged overseas and made into a film here. "We know the actual situation in North Korea is 10 times worse," he says, who learned that his father was stoned to death in a public execution five years ago. "This is just like leaking the surface of a watermelon"—a Korean expression.

The reason for the government's nervousness about the show is that it counters the policy of avoiding any criticism of North Korea while pursuing reconciliation, trade, investment, and reunions of millions of families divided by the Korean War.

Government officials refuse to confirm or deny charges of pressure to ban the show. For the record, they say they have not seen it and are not interested in doing so.

The Dear Leader, as John Gorenfeld told Reason readers a while back, is quite a theater diva himself, having penned the landmark critical work On the Art of Opera as well as the book and music for the smash hit Sea of Blood. Kim Jong-Il has not rendered a verdict on the new play, though we can expect his judgment will be strong, insightful, and rich in revolutionary wisdom. Yoduk Story's backers have no current plans to take the show north of the DMZ, though a South Korean touring production is likely.

Now I don't like to generalize from personal anecdotes, but I had a (Great- and Dear-leader hating) Korean housemate in college who, when she came out of the closet, was dismissed by her parents with the opinion, "That's a white disease." And here we've got political and cultural leaders who communicate through the medium of forbidden-love romances and have very definite opinions about showtunes. So maybe this whole Korean conflict might blow over if some people would just be upfront about their feelings.